Stories

Stuntman falls 30' onto Swan Ice Sculpture for Fed Ex Commercial

When FedEx wants to prove their delivery personnel will stop at nothing to deliver their packages on time, they really mean nothing. The commercial they made a few years back brought more than a few laughs. It required a team of well-rehearsed stuntmen and a few large swan ice sculptures.

The shot started with a deliveryman running next to the railing of a balcony. He was, of course, carrying a FedEx package under his arm. I believe the gag was that he was to slip on a freshly waxed floor or a banana peel and then go flying over the railing, plummeting 30 feet only to land directly atop a large swan ice sculpture, shattering it with his body in the process. Being a FedEx deliveryman, he of course, quickly jumped to his feet, brushed himself off, and continued to run off with his delivery.

The stuntman wore an impact suit under his clothes called an armadillo suit. It pretty much protects the body from sharp blows – like say, the punch of a swan wing at 30 MPH. They also employed a fall cable to slow the descent of the actor.

The stunt coordinator's fears, however, were not allayed, and I can still hear him saying, "I need to know exactly what to expect or we're gonna be going through stunt men like jelly beans at Christmas." Understanding what he meant, and having visions of the chariot scene from Ben Hur, I told him what he wanted to hear.

It's funny how just because you're the sculptor you're expected to be an expert in ice fracture physics, velocity dynamics, stunt coordination, and butt kissing. Guess it's just all part of the job in Hollywood.

Tom Hanks gets his Cold Wet Butt Slapped

When Premiere Magazine chose the film Polar Express staring Tom Hanks for the cover photo and movie article in June 2004, it turned out to be an ice chair and some really cold cheeks.

What Tom didn't know, until I prepped him, was that the ice chair was put together in pieces so if you leaned back too hard or pushed out on the arms, the whole thing could fall apart! Of course many jokes were made about me setting him up for disaster when I told him./p>

All joking aside, he sat in the chair for almost ten minutes as the photos were being taken, with me on my knees just out of frame, spotting in case the chair fell apart. Finally, when his backside went numb and the wool was soaked, he stood up and started slapping his rear repeatedly saying, "I'm frozen, feel this."

Since I was right next to him – and there sincerely was a good chance he was talking to me – I figured what the heck, and playfully slapped him hard on his cold wet butt. It really was frozen, and firm too. I think he was surprised. I know I was. Really, it's not everyday that you slap Tom Hanks on the butt.

Ice furniture has long been a fascination of most people. Some venues, like the ice hotel in Jakkasjarvi, Sweden, make their living with it. Almost any piece can be replicated. Moving it around is the difficult part.

I've made many large chairs, tables, sofas, lounges, fireplaces, walls, 10-foot columns, and ice chandeliers. Normally, they are built in place for an event or film shoot. This sometimes poses difficulties with keeping pieces together when people start climbing all over them.

There is a solution for ice furniture that needs to be as usable as it is visually stimulating. By grafting/constructing the ice blocks together and then refreezing it, the pieces become one and will stay together longer. The trick then becomes how to move it around.

Using the large chair that Tom Hanks posed in as an example, there were pieces from 5 ice blocks used in its construction. Standard Clinebell clear ice blocks are 20"x40"x10" and weigh close to 300 pounds. By building the chair on a standard plywood-topped pallet equipped with caster wheels, it could be rolled in and out of a large walk-in freezer. In the freezer, the separate pieces would freeze together and make the chair into one solid piece. Though Tom's finished chair weighed over 800 pounds, it could easily be moved with a fork-lift or pallet jack – or in a pinch, by 4 strong men.

If you'd like to have a summer party with ice chairs and other furniture by the pool, we can do it. It's just going to require some logistics and I don't think Tom Hanks will be there. LA ICE ART also features water-proof under-lighting, which always brings ice sculptures to life.

Giant Taittinger Champagne Flute Ice Sculpture Explodes on the Red Carpet

When it comes to live TV and the filming of something very important like the 2007 Screen Actors Guild Awards, things are rehearsed, duplicated and intensely monitored so that nothing goes wrong. The problem was that nobody ever bothered to check the red carpet for small bumps.

It was Oscar season in Hollywood and the Shrine auditorium was a twitter with activity. Television crews and Union stagehands were scrambling about like ants under a magnifying glass. I was hired to sculpt a very large champagne flute to serve as back round décor for the "Taittinger Moment".

We did, of course, have a second sculpture as a backup, but the corporate entities didn't want to see any mishaps whatsoever, lest it be a slight to their image of perfection. Needless to say, I did warn them.

The plan was to run one rehearsal two hours prior to the show. This was a process of slowly wheeling the delicate 400 lbs. ice sculpture all the way down the red carpet from the freezer truck to the small stage erected specifically for the "Taittinger Moment," setting it up for the toast, and then returning it all the way back to the truck. It was a distance of about 100 yards each way. On top of the hazards of moving a delicate sculpture that far, it was required to stand on the stage in bright sunlight for 10 or 15 minutes while the actors rehearsed.

For those of us who know a thing or two about the science of ice, this was very bad. Sunlight not only melts ice, but it weakens it by creating small fissures inside it as the dangling hydrogen molecules actually move toward the light. But that's another lecture.

For the actual live event, which had to take place in the exact minute before the actors set foot on the red carpet, there was an additional dilemma. We were to roll out the same, already weakened ice sculpture, and place it just behind the stage to serve as a backup and then bring the hero sculpture to the stage for the televised shot.

By this time, the bleachers, which ran the entire length of the red carpet, were filled with excited onlookers. They just couldn't wait to see their favorite actors appear, and now they had only a few minutes to go.

Under that excitement and pressure, there I was, wheeling my giant ice sculpture down the red carpet, the fate of Taittinger in my hands. And then, after making it halfway, and in front of thousands of cheering spectators I might add, I hit a small bump under the red carpet. The stem of the champagne glass snapped instantly, and the sculpture collapsed into hundreds of pieces.

The crowd went crazy. They were screaming and taunting so loud that I couldn't hear anything. It was one of those moments where you leave your body and see yourself from 20 feet away, standing there in a helpless cataclysm of confusion and hysteria.

Stagehands dressed in black came running from all directions as we raced to clear the debris. I knew then I had but one mission: to bring the second sculpture to the stage in one piece, but this time, there would be no backup.

In my line of work there are many "high-pressure" memories, but I can't think of one that rivalled that 100 yard march I had to make in front of all those people, screaming and jeering, to deliver that next sculpture to its rightful place on that stage for the "Taittinger Moment 2007". Long story short, I did it. And the rest, as they say, is history.

7' Rockette Ice Sculpture Smashed to Pieces, then put on Display as Objet d'Art

People always ask me if I have ever accidentally broken ice sculptures during delivery or set-up. I suppose there will always be a morbid fascination with disaster. After more than 20 years in this business, the obvious answer is yes. There is, however, one story that really stands out and helped define me as a thick skinned, take it as it comes professional ice sculptor.

It was back in the late 80's when all the cool cultural events in downtown Los Angeles happened at the Dorthy-Chandler Pavilion, not the Disney center. The VIP event rooms were, of course, on the top floor and the delivery entrance was the Artists/Musicians door off the sidewalk that featured serious cracks, pits and bumps. Most of the sidewalks in downtown Los Angeles are well over 100 years old.

I was hired to create a 7' tall Rockette dancer like the ones featured in the famous New York Broadway show a decade or so earlier. The dancer was to have an enormous feathered head-dress and, of course, one leg kicking up in the air the way the line of Rockette girls would do.

It was a challenging ice sculpture for many reasons, but most of all because the entire weight of the torso was on that one supporting leg which had about a 4" diameter at the knee. Today, I would have included supporting ice in that area to ensure a safe delivery, but as the saying goes, that was then and this is now.

The carving actually came out beautifully. I managed to wrangle it into my car and get it to the downtown area quite effectively. Of course the parking was such that I had to park about 100 yards away and roll this 7' monster down the minefield strewn sidewalk before I even arrived at the two heavy doors and elevator obstacle. It was a hot day and I took it slow, using what seemed like an eternity to maneuver my fragile dancer all the way to the interior of the elevator. As the doors closed, I thought I was home free. And then, as if by her own will, the knee gave and the entire sculpture collapsed into hundreds of pieces.

When the elevator doors opened, I emerged dragging a blanket filled with ice just like Santa Claus with an overloaded bag of broken toys. Not knowing what else to do, and feeling terrified that I had let my employer down, I dragged it down the hall and unveiled the remains at the entrance to the ballroom. Sweating bullets, I approached the woman who had hired me and said, "Here's your ice sculpture."

She asked me three questions. 1) What happened? 2) Can you put it back together? And, my personal favorite, 3) Can you make another one? The answers of course were, A) It broke. B) No. And C) Hell, no.

The silver lining to this story was that, in the end, we presented many of the pieces on a bed of crushed ice, with the head here, an arm sticking up there, even a leg that survived as an objet d'art. And the best part was, I still got paid.